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Landscapes: John Berger on Art

“John Berger teaches us how to think, how to feel how to stare at things until we see what we thought wasn’t there. But above all, he teaches us how to love in the face of adversity. He is a master.” — Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things
Landscapes, the companion volume to John Berger’s highly acclaimed Portraits, explores what art tells us about ourselves.

“Berger’s work is an invitation to reimagine; to see in different ways,” writes Tom Overton in the introduction to this volume. As a master storyteller and thinker John Berger challenges readers to rethink their every assumption about the role of creativity in our lives.

In this brilliant collection of diverse pieces—essays, short stories, poems, translations—which spans a lifetime’s engagement with art, John Berger reveals how he came to his own unique way of seeing. He pays homage to the writers and thinkers who infuenced him, such as Walter Benjamin, Rosa Luxemburg and Bertolt Brecht. His expansive perspective takes in artistic movements and individual artists—from the Renaissance to the present—while never neglecting the social and political context of their creation.

Berger pushes at the limits of art writing, demonstrating beautifully how his artist’s eye makes him a storyteller in these essays, rather than a critic. With “landscape” as an animating, liberating metaphor rather than a rigid defnition, this collection surveys the aesthetic landscapes that have informed, challenged and nourished John Berger’s understanding of the world. Landscapes—alongside Portraits—completes a tour through the history of art that will be an intellectual benchmark for many years to come.

Reviews

  • “Berger is a masterful observer, a trait that lends his writing a profound element of artistry: these essays read like sketched studies of an as-yet-painted masterwork...these worldly essays are timeless, inspiring works of critical observation.”
  • “Rich, with a broad, pluralistic approach and collaborative ethos”
  • “John Berger teaches us how to think, how to feel how to stare at things until we see what we thought wasn’t there. But above all, he teaches us how to love in the face of adversity. He is a master.”
  • “Berger is a writer one demands to know more about … an intriguing and powerful mind and talent”
  • “Essential ... reminds us that all good writing comes only from good (that is, patient, attentive, loving) looking.”
  • “The second collection of Berger's art writing judiciously edited by Tom Overton”
  • “Life has more light and colour after an encounter with Berger”

Blog

  • The Moment of Cubism

    In tribute to John Berger, who died on 2 January 2017, we excerpt ‘The Moment of Cubism’ from Landscapes, edited by Tom Overton. The 1967 essay of materialist art criticism, originally published in New Left Review, traces the lineages and legacies of Cubism. In it, Berger grapples with the sensation that “the most extreme Cubist works” – both “too optimistic and too revolutionary … to have been painted today” – are “caught, pinned down, in an enclave of time, waiting to be released and to continue a journey that began in 1907.”

    An interlocking world system of imperialism; opposed to it, a socialist international; the founding of modern physics, physiology and sociology; the increasing use of electricity, the invention of radio and the cinema; the beginnings of mass production; the publishing of mass-circulation newspapers; the new structural possibilities offered by the availability of steel and aluminium; the rapid development of chemical industries and the production of synthetic materials; the appearance of the motor-car and the aeroplane: What did all this mean?

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  • Art and Property Now

    In tribute to John Berger, who died yesterday, on 2 January 2017, we excerpt 'Art and Property Now' from Landscapes, edited by Tom Overton. The 1967 essay of materialist art criticism fed into Ways of Seeing (1972), the influential TV series and book that changed our understanding of art and its private ownership. 

    "Painting or a sculpture is a significant form of property – in a sense in which a story, a song, a poem is not. Its value as property supplies it with an aura which is the last debased expression of the quality which art objects once possessed when they were used magically. It is around property that we piece together our last tattered religion, and our visual works of art are its ritual objects." — John Berger


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  • Good To Know You!

    Andy Merrifield pays tribute to John Berger, who passed away aged 90 on 2 January 2017. 

    John died yesterday. I’ll remember his voice, his laugh, his charm and generosity. His words. Stripped-down words, mystical and carefully chosen words, earthy words, fierce words. They’ll always grab us, make us think, feel and act, piss people off. To weep for John is to weep on the shoulder of life. Remember him, gazing up at Aesop, in front of Velázquez’s great canvas?  

    He’s intimidating, he has a kind of arrogance. A pause for thought. No, he’s not arrogant. But he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The presence of Aesop refers to nothing except what he has felt and seen. Refers to no possessions, to no institutions, to no authority or protection. If you weep on his shoulder, you’ll weep on the shoulder of his life. If you caress his body, it will recall the tenderness it knew in childhood.

    John didn’t suffer fools gladly, either. 


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Other books by John Berger Edited by Tom Overton